AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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cannot believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its
species. If we keep conducting nuclear tests, it is possible that
another Godzilla might appear....somewhere in
Director: Ishiro Honda
Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai, Toranosuke Ogawa, Toyoaki Suzuki, Ren Yamamoto, Kokuten Kodo, Katsumi Tezuka, Haruo Nakajima
Screenplay: Ishiro Honda and Takeo Murata, based on a story by Shigeru Kayama
A freighter, the
Eiku-maru, is lost when it
encounters a strange light in the Pacific Ocean to the south of
and influential motion pictures were produced on either side of it,
in the history of the science fiction film in
The list goes on and on; yet in the midst of all this, the best that 1952 can offer are interesting but severely flawed efforts like Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business and the bizarre Red Planet Mars, while at its worst---well, Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, anyone? (The best original science fiction film released in America in 1952 in fact emanated from Britain: Alexander Mackendrick’s The Man In The White Suit.) Ironically, however, hindsight demonstrates that despite its almost total lack of quality new productions, 1952 was one of the most critical years in the history of cinematic science fiction, not because of any new motion picture, but rather because of the surprising financial success of a nineteen-year-old “jungle picture”.
A smash hit upon its first release in April of
continued over the years to be one of RKO’s most lucrative
investments, being re-released to cinemas in 1938, 1942, 1946 and
1952, albeit in increasingly censored form each time. As events
would prove, the 1952 re-release was a watershed of unanticipated
but vast importance. For one thing, it was hugely profitable:
Kong earned more money during this
run than upon any of its earlier releases, and out-grossed any
number of that year’s prestige productions from rival studios. This
fact was not lost upon producers Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester, who
in 1950 had come together to form Mutual Pictures of California. One
would have to search far and wide to come up with two more unlikely
figures to exert such a profound influence upon the development of
the science fiction film.
The duo did better in partnership, producing the noirish thriller
The Underworld Story
and the costume drama
Highwayman, before casting
interested eyes over the revenue being generated by a certain
“jungle picture” and deciding that what American cinema
needed was a brand new monster movie. That was critical decision #1;
critical decision #2 came shortly afterwards when Dietz and
But the influence of these two movies did not
Several structural blunders mark The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms as the first of its kind, among them its opening-scene glimpse of its monster. Gojira, learning from its predecessors, delays and builds towards this revelation, opening instead with a mysterious light in the sea, and the fiery destruction of the ships that encounter it. While the officials of the Southern Sea Steamship Company in Tokyo struggle to comprehend, let alone deal with, these disasters, the residents of the fishing community of Ohto Island are suffering likewise: a raft bearing a single survivor washes ashore; he speaks brokenly of “a monster”. This disaster is not the only one to afflict the islanders, who face ruin, possibly starvation, from the sudden disappearance of the fishing stocks from the waters surrounding their island. This second catastrophe provokes an elderly man to declare, “Godzilla must have done it” – a statement that draws upon his head the scorn and wrath of the younger generation.
(For the record, the profound honour of first uttering the G-word fell to veteran character actor Kokuten Kodo, whose film credits reached all the way back to the early 1920s, and who at the time was a Toho stock player, appearing in several Kurosawa productions including No Regret For Our Youth and The Idiot.)
By the time Hagiwara the reporter arrives on the island, the islanders’ mood has shifted significantly, to the point where an ancient exorcism ceremony is performed. During this, the old man explains to Hagiwara that Godzilla is the name of “a monster that lives in the sea”, who will “feed on humankind to survive”; in “the old days”, he adds, when the fishing was poor, the islanders used to carry out human sacrifice – of girls, naturally – in order to satisfy the creature and keep it from eating anyone else. That night, however, a gale-force wind and torrential rain sweep across the island; and as the storm builds, it is accompanied by blinding flashes of light strangely similar to those that preceded the shipping disasters. The storm destroys a number of homes and kills their occupants, including Masagi, the survivor of the fishing-boat, and his mother. Shinkichi, Masagi’s younger brother, escapes the collapsing house. From his hiding place he looks back, and sees something that makes him shriek in terror....
The survivors of the storm are transported to
The casting of Takashi Shimura as Dr Yamane is deeply significant. One of Japan’s leading actors, at the peak of his artistic collaboration with Akira Kurosawa – he starred in The Seven Samurai the same year, lest we forget – yet here he is, in “just a monster movie”....proof positive, if we needed it, of just how seriously everyone concerned with the making of Gojira took the production. When “Dr Yamane” rises to give his testimony to the committee, those assembled applaud him; I like to think that this was Ishiro Honda’s way of acknowledging the importance of Shimura’s involvement.
The outcome of Yamane’s testimony is the outfitting of an investigative expedition to Ohto Island, which includes a number of reporters, Hagiwara included; a physicist, Professor Tanabiya; Yamane’s daughter, Emiko, who acts as her father’s assistant; and Lieutenant Ogata among the crew. The party’s boat is sent on its way with streamers and cheers and cries of, “Good luck!” – not surprising, considering the fate of every other boat to venture into open water in this film – and its departure is watched intently by a man with an eye-patch and facial scarring. He is identified for us as Dr Serizawa, and his presence on the dock provokes an emotional if rather oblique conversation between Emiko and Ogata. Our attention is soon focussed upon the investigation of Ohto, however, and the discovery that the island has become contaminated with radioactivity – but only in discrete areas, not all over the island as you would expect from fallout. A huge depression in the ground catches Yamane’s attention: slowly, as if stunned by his own thought, he declares it to be a footprint. The depression, too, is radioactive, while lying within it is an impossibility: a trilobite of a species extinct for millions of years, also contaminated with radioactivity. At that moment the local warning bell is sounded. The islanders run to the hilltop; the visitors follow in their wake, although at a loss to know what provoked the alarm. They find out soon enough. Yamane is discovered standing alone, staring into the distance, more awed than frightened; he speaks incredible words:
“Tanabiya, I saw it. A creature from the Jurassic period!”
And with that, as if invoked, a monstrous head appears over the hilltop, and emits the most famous of all movie cries....
Islanders and visitors alike flee to safety. Frantic gesturing draws Yamane and Tanabiya to another vantage point, from where they can look down upon the coastline....and a beached scarred by a trail of enormous footprints, and the sweep of a gigantic tail....
To this point, Gojira is a fairly obvious melding of its two major influences. We have the islanders of King Kong – not “savages” here, but not so far advanced that they can’t remember a past of human sacrifice and ceremonies of appeasement, either – and a mythic deity that turns out to be only too real. And we have the prehistoric monster, the dinosaur, of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, revived or released by atomic testing, and later running amok through a major urban area. So far, so familiar. But with Yamane’s testimony to the Diet committee, the parting of the ways between Gojira and its models could hardly be more absolute.
The first thing we notice is the vastly different attitude of this film to radiation and atomic testing. During the 1950s, “radioactivity” became the all-purpose whipping-boy of American science fiction – but very rarely more than that. Whether creating, or reviving, or sometimes destroying, “radioactivity” was simply the MacGuffin, an excuse to let loose a monster on a highly enjoyable rampage of destruction. The underlying fears that inspired these films might have been real enough, but the result was rarely other than trivial.
The choice of a similar theme in
conversely, could not be more serious. Dark and powerful emotions
underpin every use of, every reference to, atomic energy and its
consequences in this film, as with solemn deliberation, Tomoyuki
Tanaka and Ishiro Honda set about to evoke the horrors of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, and the casualties that reached into the hundreds of
thousands; it is certainly no coincidence that the events of
all take place within the month of August. It was a devastation that
the director had personally witnessed. Drafted in 1936, Ishiro Honda
finished WWII as a prisoner of war in
During the Allied Occupation, both the
conventional and the atomic destruction of
If the first half of Gojira is somewhat derivative, from the point of Dr Yamane’s address it becomes a remarkable work inspired by little beside the sensibilities of its makers. A fascinating scene follows Yamane’s announcement that Godzilla has not merely survived a nuclear blast, but somehow absorbed the radiation. Mr Ooyama, the chair of the parliamentary committee hearing testimony about the events on Ohto, instantly declares the news too serious to be made public; that the announcement not merely of Godzilla’s existence, but that he is in some way the product of atomic testing, would assuredly throw the population into panic. The rest of the entirely male committee applauds this declaration approvingly. The gathered reporters, however – led by an extremely mouthy trio of women, one of whom does not hesitate to call Ooyama an idiot – aren’t having a bar of any cover-up. They get their way. The newspapers reveal the truth to the public, and we cut to some ordinary citizens discussing the news on a train, frightened and bewildered, but calm. One makes wry reference to surviving Nagasaki; another sighs with grim resignation, “The shelters again....” Was this scene intended as a criticism of the government for under-estimating its people? Perhaps – but on the other hand, it is clear that the citizenry has yet truly to grasp what’s in store for them; certainly not those spending an evening on a drinking-and-dancing boat upon Tokyo Bay....
(Another interesting touch to be found at this point of the film is the unofficial adoption of the orphaned Shinkichi into the Yamane family; a fate similar to that experienced by many real war orphans.)
In the meantime, the government dispatches the “anti-Godzilla frigate fleet”, to drop depth charges in the creature’s vicinity: an historic moment, the first but far from the last failure of conventional weaponry against its most famous foe. (With fifty-odd years’ hindsight, watching these scenes, and those in which the soldiers fire standard machine-guns at Godzilla, is enough to make you cry.) The effectiveness of this ploy is revealed when Godzilla makes his first ever appearance in the vicinity of Tokyo, rising up out of the bay and splashing his way across, but doing no immediate damage – even to the party boat. Dr Yamane is again summoned to speak with the government officials, who plead with him to be frank, if he can suggest any way that Godzilla can be killed.
Dr Yamane, of course, doesn’t want Godzilla to be killed at all – not, I would argue, an unreasonable stance for a palaeontologist and zoologist confronted by a living dinosaur, certainly not at this point in the story. (The one single tiny sliver of humour to be found anywhere in this film comes when Ogata works up the nerve to tell Dr Yamane about himself and Emiko, and ends up ordered from the house – not for his intentions towards Emiko, but for declaring that he agrees with those who say that Godzilla must be destroyed.) But Yamane’s hope that Godzilla can be preserved isn’t merely a simple desire for the survival of a unique specimen. When the officials ask Yamane to suggest a way of killing the creature, the scientist is blunt. “Godzilla absorbed massive amounts of atomic radiation: what do you think could kill him?” Yamane’s argument is that Godzilla’s ability not just to withstand but to absorb radiation, even to thrive upon it, must be studied and understood. Here we cut back to the reporter Hagiwara, assigned full-time to Godzilla’s story, and on a lead dispatched by his editor to interview another scientist, Dr Daisuke Serizawa, whom rumour claims to be the creator of a weapon powerful enough to destroy even Godzilla.
There are many ways in which the gap between the American and the Japanese perspective makes itself felt over the course of this “monster movie”, but nowhere more so than in Gorija’s presentation of Dr Serizawa. Serizawa is first glimpsed silently watching the departure of Dr Yamane and his team on their expedition to Ohto; and in any other movie, his eye-patch, his sunglasses, his facial scar, his grim expression and his dark suit would be enough to mark him as the villain. (While we’re on the subject, look at the way that Serizawa’s image is used on the poster.) It is a commonplace of American monster movies for the hero to be one of the first people to become aware of the existence of the monster – or at least, to do so and survive – and generally speaking, we follow him from first encounter to final destruction, in which more often than not he is involved, either directly or by coming up with the plan. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms itself takes this road. Our familiarity with this schema makes Serizawa’s deferred introduction in Gojira seem anomalous, as indeed does the oblique way in which the character has been referenced to this point; because Serizawa is, inarguably, the hero of Gojira – and ultimately, one of the most moving and tragic heroes imaginable.
A further dissimilarity between this film and many of its American counterparts is its handling of its central love triangle; that is, what we, perhaps belatedly, perceive to be its central love triangle. It is another American commonplace for the heroine of a monster movie to be caught between two male co-leads, but ending up with one of them by the end, either because he has proven himself “the better man”, or because his rival has sacrificed himself along the way. Although something generally similar happens here, its specifics could hardly be more different. It is evident from the outset that there is something between Emiko Yamane and Hideo Ogata, although this being a Japanese movie of 1954, we neither expect nor receive much physical or verbal confirmation of this fact. That something is bothering the two of them is also clear; what, exactly, remains undisclosed until Ogata reacts uncomfortably to Serizawa’s presence at the departure of the expedition. It is Hagiwara’s editor who finally declares Serizawa to be “Dr Yamane’s future son-in-law”....at almost the same moment that Emiko is assuring Ogata that she thinks of Serizawa as a brother, and always has.
When Hagiwara comes to Emiko to beg her to get him an entré to Serizawa, she seizes the opportunity to visit him herself, determined to tell him about Ogata and formally to break their engagement. It doesn’t quite work out like that. Serizawa stonewalls Hagiwara and his inquiries about a new weapon, and eventually the reporter gives up. When he has gone, however, and Emiko herself puts off carrying out the real reason for her visit with questions about Serizawa’s research, the scientist abruptly offers to show her what he is working on. It is a demonstration that leaves Emiko overcome with horror. As she staggers from the laboratory, Serizawa demands from her, and receives, a solemn promise that she will tell no-one of what she has seen – no-one. There is an air of discomfort about Emiko here that has nothing to do with what she has seen. We understand that she is thinking of another solemn promise that she once made to Serizawa.
that night, Godzilla emerges from
It can be easy to forget, particularly if you’ve been watching any of the later, pop art, good-guy-Godzilla movies in between viewings, just what a grim and disturbing film Gojira is. Even the more serious American monster movies, and the later Japanese ones (including the subsequent Godzilla films), at least tacitly encourage the viewer to take a Schadenfreude-ish pleasure in the destruction of their various landmarks and cities; while many, perhaps most, such movies serve up their carnage in clear expectation of provoking nothing beyond cheers and laughter. But not Gojira, unique in the gravity and sincerity of its intentions. There is not a single instant when the viewer is invited simply to enjoy the spectacle. Rather, the film demands a profound emotional response: horror at the devastation, and pity for the victims; all of it underscored by our knowledge of what inspired this story’s production. Amongst all the unforgettable images here are two brief scenes immortal in the kaiju lexicon. In the first, a woman, a widow, comforts her two small children by telling them that soon they’ll be with their father again – very soon. In the other, reporters watching from a broadcasting tower attract Godzilla’s attention with their lights. With nowhere to run as the creature moves towards them, the leading radio-man continues his report right up to the instant of the tower’s destruction and his own death. This iconic sequence, so often afterwards referenced either in a direct play for laughs, or so ineptly executed as to provoke laughter, is powerful and moving here.
And then Gojira does something else that separates it from its brethren: it stops to count the cost. We’ve seen Godzilla’s destruction of Tokyo, and we’ve seen the casualties resulting amongst the armed forces, crushed by falling buildings or vaporised by the creature’s breath; but here the film shows us the civilian toll; and if to this point its imagery has referenced the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, here it evokes rather the firebombing of Tokyo that preceded it. The dead and the dying lie in rows; injured children scream for their mothers; doctors and nurses struggle helplessly with wave upon wave of casualties. A small boy is scanned with a Geiger counter, as his doctor slowly shakes his head....
Throughout all this, we have stayed with the Yamane family and Ogata, seeing the destruction through their eyes. In the aftermath, Emiko works as a volunteer at a hospital – and what she witnesses there brings her to a critical decision: that it is time she broke her second promise to Serizawa. Emiko tells her story to Ogata, and in flashback we see what happened in Serizawa’s laboratory; what it was that caused the scientist to demand from Emiko so solemn an oath of secrecy.
Within Serizawa’s laboratory is a large fish-tank; a new addition since Emiko’s last visit, evidently, since she exclaims at its presence. Donning thick protective gloves, Serizawa drops a small pellet into the tank. He then pulls Emiko back to a safe distance as the water begins to churn – and as the fish within the tank are completely skeletonised, their flesh liquefied as Serizawa’s discovery extracts from the water and their bodies every last vestige of oxygen.... A single piece of this “oxygen destroyer”, comments Serizawa, dropped into Tokyo Bay, would turn it into a graveyard....
Emiko and Ogata’s visit to Serizawa is Gojira’s eye-of-the-storm, a period of comparative calm bookended by nightmarish scenes of destruction and mourning. One of the real strengths of Gojira is the way it balances its humanitarian aspects with its sense of proportion. Thus, while we follow the story largely from Ogata and Emiko’s perspective, while their romantic difficulties and desires are always somewhere in the frame, their personal story is never allowed to dominate – and nor is there ever that obnoxious implication, so common in films of this kind, that as long as these particular people are okay, then everything’s all right, that the story has a happy ending. In the overall scheme of things, Ogata and Emiko’s problems don’t amount (so to speak) to a hill of beans, and it is to the credit of everyone involved that this is acknowledged so clearly. Indeed, it is not the Emiko-Ogata romance, but Emiko’s involvement with Serizawa, that really carries weight. It is via this doomed relationship that we truly come to understand Serizawa.
Audiences used to the emphasis given to the love story in most Western films may find its equivalent here strangely diffuse. The circumstances under which Emiko became engaged to Serizawa, for instance, are never referred to; there is no scene in which she justifies herself to Ogata. Whether it was duty, or affection, or hero-worship, or a combination of all three that led Emiko to enter into her engagement is never revealed. It is, in any case, easy enough to imagine the effect that Serizawa's return from the war, severely wounded in both body and mind, would have had upon Emiko and her father, both of whom clearly hold him in the deepest respect. Through the tentative interaction between Emiko and Serizawa, the scientist begins to be revealed, and the depth of his tragedy becomes clear. Despite his dedication to pacifism, his desire to work for the benefit of mankind, Serizawa’s war-time experiences have left him emotionally scarred to the point where an ordinary life is beyond his capability. There is a real sense that Emiko represents a kind of life-line for Serizawa, his last tenuous link with normality. It is also quite possible that Emiko realises this herself, and that it is this, rather than any feeling of duty or guilt, that lies at the root of her reluctance to break with him.
Akihiko Hirata’s performance as Serizawa is a wonderfully nuanced piece of acting, allowing our sympathies, even our affections, to lie with the scientist even as we recognise the extent to which he is psychologically damaged. Given the origin of this film, we do not expect any intimate contact or conversation between Emiko and Ogata. However, Ogata is forever putting his hands on Emiko’s shoulders, while on Ohto, as the two of them are fleeing from Godzilla, he does take her protectively into his arms. Conversely, the critical moment between Emiko and Serizawa is that in which he reveals his work to her. We recognise that his doing so is a gesture of trust and affection, the only kind, perhaps, of which he is capable – but we recognise also in its outcome the impossibility of any future between the two. Significantly, the only physical contact between them occurs here, as a horrified Emiko hides her face against Serizawa’s shoulder after recoiling in revulsion from what he has shown her.
The debate between Serizawa and Ogata, in which the latter pleads for the “oxygen destroyer” to be used as a weapon against Godzilla, cuts to the moral heart of this story. Serizawa himself has already made his feelings on the subject quite clear, expressing to Emiko his recognition of the dangerously dual nature of his discovery: his determination to harness its power for the benefit of mankind, and his profound fear that, in other hands, it might instead be used as a weapon – a weapon even more terrible than the atomic bomb. But Serizawa’s fears are more specific even than that. His overriding terror, confessed here under the pressure of Ogata’s urging, is not just that his work will be put to destructive and violent purposes, but that he himself will be instrumental in it happening; that he will be coerced, or tricked, or tempted, into allowing his discovery to be used against humanity. Perhaps he knows that he has reason to doubt himself. Serizawa’s initial reaction to Ogata’s plea is a flat refusal. He flees to his laboratory and locks himself in, and by the time Ogata and Emiko force their way in, he is trying to destroy his experimental notes. A struggle between the two men ends with Serizawa knocking Ogata down and injuring him – and it is this impulsive act of violence that stops the scientist in his tracks, and gives the advantage back to Ogata. As Emiko tends his injuries, Ogata argues passionately that while he understands Serizawa’s reluctance, what he fears is what might happen in the future, while Godzilla is mankind’s immediately reality; that here the oxygen destroyer, although used as a weapon, will be used to benefit humanity. Serizawa counters that once knowledge of the oxygen destroyer is made public, the genie will once again be out of the bottle....and that it will only be a matter of time before someone does use it against humanity.
It is not difficult to read the film-makers’ own bitter and outraged feelings here, lurking behind Serizawa’s ethical terrors; but perhaps in this respect Gojira isn’t entirely fair. Serizawa, after all, is a private individual. He does not work for the government; he is not part of a team; and he is not carrying out his work under constant surveillance, and under threat of professional and personal ruin. The responsibility is entirely his – and so, ultimately, is the choice. As Serizawa almost collapses under the weight of his moral dilemma, clutching his head as he cries in agony, “What am I going to do!?”, an answer comes in the form of a special television broadcast of a children’s choir singing “Oh Peace, Oh Light, Return”, an anti-war song used here as a prayer. The song is accompanied by images of a city in ruins, and of Godzilla’s victims. Serizawa watches, and accepts his responsibility – and his fate.
As Serizawa’s quandary is resolved, so too is
the Ogata-Emiko-Serizawa triangle. The beginning of the argument
over the oxygen destroyer, with Serizawa reacting in outrage to
Emiko’s betrayal of his secret, and both Ogata and a tearful Emiko
pleading for his forgiveness, is curiously double-edged. Although
betrayal is never touched upon, the significance of her choosing
Ogata for her confidante certainly does not escape Serizawa. By the
time the debate over the oxygen destroyer has concluded, all three
of them know exactly where each of them stands....and without one
direct word being spoken on the subject. When Serizawa returns
calmly to burning his notes, Emiko breaks down in sobs,
understanding only too well the implication of the scientist’s quiet
declaration that this is the only time the oxygen destroyer will
ever be used. We cut to a ship on
Ogata and Serizawa descend to the floor of
their target located, the men signal the boat. Ogata begins his
ascent, but Serizawa does not follow. As the oxygen destroyer begins
its terrible work, Godzilla writhes in agony, breaking the surface
And Serizawa, having witnessed the full realisation of his deepest fears, sends to the surface one final wish for the future happiness of Ogata and Emiko, and cuts his own air-line....
Gojira is a remarkably powerful film. It is also, and this above all else, an overwhelmingly sad one. The twin deaths at its conclusion, man and monster equally victims of a terrifying force, create a climax of astonishing emotional impact. Yet having reached this point, Gojira still does not relent. There is some celebration of Godzilla’s death, but it is brief, undercut by mourning for the man whose self-sacrifice made it possible. Emiko and Ogata, Hagiwara and Shinkichi, all weep openly. And even as he grieves for Serizawa, Dr Yamane insists that this victory, if victory it can be called, is only temporary; that the forces that produced one Godzilla will inevitably produce another, should man continue on his reckless path....
It can be difficult today, with Godzilla one of the true icons of world pop culture, to understand the magnitude of the risk that Toho Studios took in producing Gojira. First and most simply, there was the financial risk. The film was budgeted at roughly three times that of a standard production, with all that money being poured into an unproven genre, a new kind of movie in both style and execution. Then, of course, there was the political risk. The film-makers’ decision to ignore government edicts against nuclear-themed movies was dangerous enough; for many viewers, the film’s deliberate and unrelenting evocation of the horrors of nuclear war was too much, and the film-makers found themselves facing accusations of exploiting the national tragedy for gain. This response is understandable, but misguided. Few films are as sincere in their intentions as this one.
As with many great films,
was to some extent the result of serendipity. If Tomoyuki Tanaka’s
Indonesian project had not fallen through, if his first-choice
director had accepted the assignment....well, who knows? A large
measure of the film’s success is also due, ironically, to
limitations imposed upon its production by both circumstance and
budget. Both of
King Kong and
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,
realised their monsters via stop-motion; but neither the technical
expertise necessary nor the time to execute this particular form of
animation were available to the makers of this film. Instead,
Tomoyuki Tanaka and his special effects man, Eiji Tsuburaya, came up
with something that goes by the rather overly grand title of “suitmation”
– in other words, they put a man in a suit. Stuntman Harou Nakajima,
with occasional relief from his fellow technician Katsumi Tezuka,
was given the job of bringing Godzilla to life. Although suffering
agonies courtesy of the combination of the heavy, airless rubber
suit and the blazing studio lights, Nakajima gallantly completed his
assignment, part of which was the destruction of a convincing
The decision to shoot
in black-and-white was critical to the film’s success. Although this
was almost certainly done in order to disguise the shortcomings of
the suit, and of some of the model work, the usual black-and-white
side effect, a gritty
quality, heightens enormously the film’s realism and dramatic
impact. Ishiro Honda’s background in cinematography and documentary-making,
as well as his own war-time experiences, is evident throughout
the film, but particularly in the staging of the attack upon
Although not welcomed in all quarters upon its
critical reputation in
To give the devil his due,
Godzilla, King Of The Monsters is
by far the best and the most honest of all the
Even edited and re-focussed as it is, and with Raymond Burr playing
Greek chorus as reporter-witness Steve Martin, much of the film’s power
remains. It is still an incredibly bleak story, not “fun” at all in
the usual monster movie sense. And for many years – in
There are, I suppose, some people out there so soulless that they can look at Gojira and see nothing except a guy in a rubber suit stomping on miniatures. You can only pity their lack of imagination – and their lack of heart. For myself, when watching Gojira I generally start to tear up in the middle of the destruction of
And in an odd sort of way, the film's climax is even harder to take today than it was originally. As painful as that ending was when Godzilla was so completely a force of destruction and death, these days, when we have nothing but love in our hearts for the big guy, it's simply agonising. (It remains, and I suppose I can put it like this, the most unambiguous Godzilla death.) And this fact leads us to contemplate a bewildering contradiction, in the cultural devolution of the symbol of the most terrifying power ever unleashed against mankind into a cuddly pop art icon infamous for his swagger, his tail-propelled acrobatics, and his dubious parenting. Perhaps the best we can say about all this is that, in turn, it symbolises the enduring capacity of the human spirit to come to terms with almost anything – even with the vision of its own imminent annihilation.
Want a second opinion of Gojira? Visit Stomp Tokyo.